In the afternoon I took my sixteen-year-old for a haircut. Mumbling, he managed nonetheless to inform the young hairdresser (a mere five years his senior, I guessed) that he wanted his hair cut short. Really short. "Almost like a crew cut," he said. She raised one eyebrow questioningly and glanced over at me. I shrugged and kept my mouth closed. "Are you sure?," she asked him. Her clippers, waiting, like her, for his response, hovered hesitantly in the air next to my son's head. He nodded assent, and his nod, if not his words, brooked no dissent.
As she worked, she switched her eyes from him to me, him to me. She was obviously worried that I was going to be horrified. I winced as clump after clump of hair, more hair than seemed possible, fell to the floor. Eventually I closed my eyes so that I wouldn't have to see.
My mother's mental illness made it near impossible for her to accept change. The depression turned her inward and made the idea of change overwhelming, out of her purview; the obsessive-compulsiveness made the idea of change vastly anxiety-provoking. The two together cemented her firmly in place.
Our kitchen cabinets dated from the mid-1970's. They alternated between teal and cobalt. Yes, there were two tones of blue in our kitchen, and they were not complementary tones. We lived with those cabinets for thirty-five years because the idea of workers coming in to update the kitchen brought my mother close to hyperventilation. In 1981 or 1982, the clothes dryer broke. It stayed in the kitchen, broken and useless, for the next twenty-five years. As a teen I had to hang my wet laundry on wooden drying racks, not because we couldn't afford a new dryer, but because the mess it would make to remove the dryer and install a replacement was just too much for my mother to handle.
Needless to say, I, my person, was not exempt from her fear of change. When I rode the train down to Greenwich Village with my best friend and got my hair cut, from waist-length to shoulder-length, my mom cried when she saw it, and then turned chilly and remote, refusing to talk to me for a day. I was fourteen. What to say? It was a lesson, like any other.
The hairdresser called out in a bright but thin voice, "We're done!" I opened my eyes and saw my son not with something close to a crew cut, but with an honest-to-God crew cut. I inhaled sharply. Then I noticed (and was gratified by the fact) that my boy has a beautifully shaped head. And finally I watched as he grinned goofily at himself in the mirror. I exhaled.
In the car I told him to expect strong reactions from schoolmates and family. "What do you think?," he asked me, bracing himself against my answer. "It's pretty short, and you're pretty thin," I mused. "It kind of looks like you're ready to join the army. But it's not what I think. It's your hair. What do you think?"
"I love it," he breathed wonderingly.
"That's good, then," I affirmed.
And it was. Good. The shadow of my past shuffled off, defeated, as my kid stole bashful, pleased glances at himself in the rearview mirror. I hummed all the way home.